April 2022

Ranking Works: An Examination of Ranked Choice Voting in New York City

Primary season often sneaks up on voters, especially in a midterm election year: a 50-state patchwork of dates and deadlines, policy changes, and seats up for re-election doesn’t make it an easy process to navigate. 

Although it’s often a less scrutinized election, reliably safe red and blue districts mean the partisan primary is often the election of consequence in determining who will represent all voters in office. Yet real choice and representation for voters is not always a primary promise, especially when the candidate field is crowded and winners can advance by appealing to a narrow plurality of their party’s base.  

On the bright side, states and municipalities across the country are reshaping the status quo in favor of reforms that center voter preference and incentivize healthy competition. 

Take New York City: their 2021 mayoral primary election is an enlightening case study on how ranked choice voting (also referred to as RCV or instant runoff voting) can help solve many problems associated with primaries. Voters said goodbye to single-choice, plurality-winner elections and costly runoffs, and hello to more choice, voice, and consensus-winners. 

Initial research suggests voters liked the reform, embraced the opportunity to rank candidates, and would like to continue using RCV in future elections


In a new white paper published by the Unite America Institute, Daemen University academics Dr. Erin Carman and Dr. Jay Wendland synthesize compelling exit polling from New York City’s first — and world’s largest — implementation of ranked choice voting to date. 

Professor Carman and Wendland’s analysis contextualizes NYC voter experience and campaign perception alongside succinct summaries of prior peer-reviewed research findings. The exit polling summarized in the report — conducted by Edison Research on behalf of Common Cause New York and Rank the Vote NYC — paints an optimistic picture of voter engagement with RCV, while offering questions worthy of future research. 

New York City is not the only jurisdiction embracing RCV: approximately 10 million voters in Alaska, Maine, and over 50 municipalities will use RCV in their next election. 

Find out why NYC voters of all stars and stripes ranked their vote. 


Other research